Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Car With The Dragon Tattoo

On test… Volvo V60

You get two kinds of Swedes. One is a play-it-safe, minimalist-furniture-designing chap who’s really good a tennis. And the other is a death metal-loving Beserker who’d like nothing better than to stick a horned helmet on his head and invade Europe.

Up until now, it’s been the former who’ve been employed by Volvo to design their cars. Quietly-spoken men in frameless titanium spectacles called Björn and Øläv have not only been responsible for some of the finest songs in Eurovison history, but also some of the safest cars ever made.

Things have changed though. The Beserker blokes have boldly sailed into Göteborg and claimed the Volvo HQ as their own. Men with long, straight blond hair and suspiciously supernatural hammers are clearly running the show. We began to suspect as much last year when the crackerjack R-Design hatchback emerged from the halls of Valhalla, and if the new Volvo V60 doesn’t confirm this Scandinavian revolt, you can call me Leif Spring Süspensiøn.

Gone is the big boxy stationwagon of yore that required nought but a coat of black paint and maroon velvet window curtains to become a hearse. In its place is a shark-nosed bad-ass with a sloping rear roof line that blurs the line between estate and hatch. Ja, maybe this “sports estate” lacks the boot space of a true stationwagon, but is 430 litres behind the rear seats will still swallow plenty crates of Absolut, even if you now have to tie the reindeer carcass to roof racks.

There are also a bunch of engines to suit the svelte new shape. Top dog is the 3.0-litre turbo T6 (224kW/440Nm) with its all-wheel drive, but there are some nice torquey diesels and, if you’re not too bothered by a need for Thor’s hammer, the 1.6-litre turbo of the T3 (110kW) and T4 (132kW), that’ll do just nicely.

Clearly the Swedes recognise a nation of enthusiastic drivers when they see one and the V60 is only available in SA with Volvo’s “Dynamic Chassis”. It still feels like a Volvo on the road – comfortable and unthreatening – but there’s now more of an edge to its handling. One word of advice – get the auto Geartronic or twin-clutch auto Powersfit gearbox. The 6-speed manual is way too wobbly and often results in the enormously irritating “am I in 1st or am I in 3rd”.

And yes, yes it has all the safety features one could imagine… and a few you couldn’t. It is after, all a Volvo.

The V60 starts from R320 800 (Incl CO2 Tax and 14% VAT)

(as appeared in the July issue of the Kulula in-flight mag)